Taking the Next Step in Spiritual Growth (aka: Was the Apostle Paul a Hottie?)

I think I’m developing a little crush on the Apostle Paul.

(just kidding!)

But really, I am so grateful for Paul’s willingless to obey. His faith. His dedication to writing letters to other believers. I’m pretty positive if I was sitting in prison I’d be feeling sorry for myself rather than writing letters to encourage, call out, and build up the church.

Right now I’m reading Hebrews. Hebrews 10 and 11 were exactly what I needed to hear today. Paul wrote about the basics of what we need to be doing and how we should be living:

  • Drawing near to God
  • Holding unswervingly to Him
  • Encouraging other Christians toward love and good deeds
  • Putting my faith in action

I don’t know if Paul meant these to be sequential steps, but if so, I’m ready to take the next step. I’ve spent the past four years committed to reading through the Bible (almost) every day. I’ve read through the Bible three times and this year I’ve been doing a deep dive in the Gospels and Paul’s letters; but now I ready for more.

In addition to reading and studying the Bible and praying daily (Drawing near to God), I want to jump into the other three simultaneously:

Holding unswervingly to God: this is where I think practicing spiritual disciplines like solitude and silence, memorization and meditation, and fasting come into play. This article does a great job explaining how to incorporate these spiritual disciplines into our Christian walk.

Encouraging other Christians toward love and good deeds: Community and accountability. I long for this. Not just friends. But a small tribe of women who are on fire for Jesus. I’ve heard many times that people are the “average” of the five people they surround themselves with. I don’t know if this is true, but I want to find five women who are at a similar place I am spiritually – and ideally a few who are more spiritually mature – who will push me, encourage me, and hold me accountable. And even though I’m not old (mid-40’s is the new 30’s, right?), I want to find younger women who I can encourage and spur toward good deeds.

Putting my faith in action: I know my primary mission field: the three beautiful people who live in my house. I need to be working my mission field everyday. Secondarily, I also believe God is calling me to be active in encouraging other women to spend time with Jesus every day and to be active in loving and supporting women facing unplanned pregnancies. I know my purpose. I know what God is calling me to. Now is the time to step forward in faith and take action on living out my purpose.

It is time to put Paul’s instructions to the early church into practice and go deeper in my walk with Jesus, taking each step in submission and obedience to Him.

P.S. Paul, thanks for writing these letters. Don’t worry, I don’t really have a crush on you. That was a joke. But, I can’t wait to meet you someday.

Jesus Loves Me

Sometime between the washing his disciples’s feet at the Passover meal, and his arrest later that evening, Jesus looked up to heaven and had a conversation with his Father. John recorded the loving prayer in John 17. If you ever doubt the enormity of Jesus’ love for you, read this prayer he prayed while knowing he soon be tortured and killed.

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

John 17:1-3

Jesus knew the was close to death, and he prayed for God to be glorified and that we might have eternal life.

I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.

Jesus, John 17:11

Jesus prayed for the protection and unity of believers.

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

Jesus, John 17:13

Jesus prayed for us to have joy.

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

Jesus, John 17:15

Jesus prayed for our protection from Satan.

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Jesus, John 17:17-19

Jesus prayed for us to be sanctified, which means that we will become more like God.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus, John 17:20-23

Jesus wasn’t just praying for the disciples that were with him at that time. He was praying for the believers that would follow. He was praying for you. He was praying for me. And he wanted us to have unity with God, with him, and with each other.

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

Jesus, John 17:24

Jesus wants us to be with him. Wow. The creator of the universe wants to be with me and show me his glory. What an immense love. I understand Jesus having compassion for his creation. I can even wrap my mind about Jesus being willing to die to save us. But here Jesus takes it even further: he wants me to be with him. Jesus wants to spend time with me. He doesn’t just love me in a paternal way; he likes me. He prays for me. He wants the best for me.

And as he prayed below, Jesus wants me me to know that I am loved:

Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.

Jesus, John 17:25-26

Am I Loving Jesus?

In John 14, Jesus repeatedly tells us that obeying him equates to loving him. If I claim to love Jesus but don’t obey him, I need to question my claim of loving him.

If you love me, keep my commands.

Jesus, John 14:15

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.

Jesus, John 14:21

Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

Jesus, John 14:23-24

Taking a personal inventory of my behavior helps me see if my love for Jesus is genuine or just lip-service.

Am I obeying Jesus’ Commands?

  • How do I handle insults and rejections because of Jesus? (Matthew 5:11-12)
  • Am I letting my light shine so people may see my good deeds and glorify God. (Matthew 5:16)
  • Am I lashing out in anger, or making sure my words are kind and loving, even when I am upset? (Matthew 5:21-22)
  • How I deal with someone who is upset with me? Do I reconcile with them and settle matters quickly? Do I forgive others? (Matthew 5:23-25)
  • Am I lusting? (Matthew 5:27-28)
  • Do I condone divorce? (Matthew 5:31-32)
  • How do I treat people who hurt me? (Matthew 5:38-39)
  • Am I praying for my enemies and showing them love? (Matthew 5:43-47)

These are just the start of the commands. Matthew 5-7 has many more, in addition to Jesus’ other commands in the Gospels. I need to know what Jesus commands by reading the Bible, meditating on it, and memorizing it. And then I need to put my love for him into practice by obeying, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Feeding My Soul

I am not a body with a soul. I am a soul with a body.

Unknown, random quote, most likely on a beach gif

I saw this quote recently while scrolling through Instagram or Facebook. I don’t remember who posted it. I think it was a fashion or travel blogger. Someone whose blog isn’t focused on faith and for all I know they were talking about yoga rather than God . . . but still, it stuck with me.

Today I read John 4, which has a theme of nourishment and physical and spiritual sustenance, which took me back to this quote and made me question the effort I put into making sure my soul is fed versus my physical body.

I am not a “foodie.” Theoretically, I’d like to be, but realistically I don’t like to cook or bake. I don’t like grocery shopping. I am a picky eater. If I go to a great restaurant, I usually get the most conservative, bland item on the menu. Eating grilled chicken is out of my comfort zone. But I try not to eat too much processed food. I try to drink enough water. I’m trying to eat more greens. I know that eating good, healthy, clean foods is better for me. I know there is a correlation between the health of my cells and the food I ingest. I am conscious of this correlation, and I know that if I am disciplined and selective about what I eat, I will have better physical health.

In John 4, Jesus talked about physical and spiritual nourishment:

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. )

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

John 4:7-15

Our souls need nourishment just as much as our physical bodies. The “living water” that Jesus offers is salvation. By believing in him, our soul is quenched (see: John 7:37-38). A relationship with God is the only “drink” that offers life to our souls. Without Jesus, our souls will always be thirsty, seeking something to sooth it.

Jesus also talked about nourishment that comes from obedience to God:

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.

John 4:31-34

Throughout John 4 there are also several references to Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine, which foreshadows the last supper when instead of turning water into wine, Jesus had the disciples drink wine that represented his blood, which he would shed for our sins.

From the time I wake up in the morning until the time I go to bed, my body sends my brain messages about what it needs. My stomach reminds me it is time to eat. My caffeine addiction tells me to make coffee. Sometimes I get a headache from too much of a substance or not enough of another. Sometimes I get shaky or have trouble consecrating. I hear these messages, and I usually know what they mean. If not, a quick visit to WebMD will give me a clue.

I am not just a body with a soul. I am a soul with a body. I need to tune into what my soul is telling me and make sure it is being fed.

  • Am I losing my temper? I need more time reading the Bible.
  • Am I anxious? I need more time in prayer.
  • Am I lusting? I need to practice obedience.
  • Am I coveting? I need to serve others.
  • Is my soul tired? I need to rest in Jesus.

Making sure my soul is fed with the Bible, prayer, and spiritual disciplines is just as important as making sure my stomach is fed.

Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.

Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Jesus, John 6:26-27,32-33,35

Worry Getting in the Way

Today’s #DailyBibleReading (Luke 21) spoke to my heart, especially about not letting worry get in the way of focusing on Jesus and hearing his word.

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.

Jesus, Luke 21:34

And earlier in the chapter, Jesus talked to the disciples about the persecution that they would face and he said they should make up their minds beforehand not to worry:

But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.

Jesus, Luke 21:14

Jesus told his disciples not to let their hearts get weighed down by the anxieties of life and also to make up their minds not to worry. Right now I’m struggling with some worry. I can feel it physically in my shoulders and stomach. It isn’t even anything terrible that I am facing. I am re-branding my company and designing a new website and marketing materials. All good stuff. Exciting stuff. But what if the latest effort fails? What if I can’t find new customers? What if my current customers don’t like the new brand? What if I can’t live up to what I’m selling?

Personal insecurities and worries start to creep in. My mind starts going through scenarios. Trying to be proactive, I begin to strategize for every possible option, including failure. And then my time spent with Jesus in the Bible starts to suffer as my mind wanders. My prayer life starts to become rushed and unfocused. I snap at my kids and husband.

Jesus said not to let my heart get weighed down by the anxiety of life. It is a mental exercise. I need to make up my mind not to worry. I need to give it to Jesus.

A few weeks ago I read in Luke 8 about having my soul be “good soil.” Again, Jesus talked about letting God’s word penetrate my heart and not letting the worry of life get in the way.

This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

Jesus, Luke 8:11-15

When my mind starts to wander into worry, I need to stop it. I need to take the worry off my hook and put it on Jesus. Look to him. Pray. Focus on him. And be careful not to let the worries of life get in the way of my walk with God.

Loving an Unbelieving Child

Jesus knows the experience of loving a child whose eyes are blind to the truth of the salvation he offers.

In Luke 19, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt, with crowds praising him and singing about the miracles he had done. He came up on a road between two towns called Bethphage and Bethany to a mountain ridge called the Mount of Olives. (If you are a visual person, I highly recommend checking out this video and these photos to get an idea of where Jesus was and what it looked like).

From the Mount of Olives, Jesus looked down at Jerusalem. Looking down the slopes he could see his beloved city, full of God’s chosen people. His heart was so full of love for his children, but also full of sorrow. He knew that salvation, and peace, and healing were were offered to them, free of charge. He also knew that they were rejecting the gift they were being offered. And that the consequence of that rejection would be their own destruction and death.

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” Luke 19:41-44

For all you moms out there whose hearts are breaking watching your children make bad decisions and reject Jesus, Jesus knows exactly how you feel. For all you dads who wish you could just fix things and open your kid’s eyes to see the truth, Jesus understands.

Jesus knows what it is like to share the truth in love and have it rejected. Jesus knows the pain of watching a child suffer and not being able to stop it because it is the child’s choice to make bad decisions. Jesus knows what it is like to be willing to sacrifice everything to save a wayward child.

He knows because he did it. He gave his life for Jerusalem. He gave his life for me. He gave his life for you. He gave his life for our children. He loved, sacrificed, and told the truth. He prayed and cried for his and our wayward children.

And he didn’t stop.

Moms and dads, don’t stop. Keep praying. Keep loving. Keep sharing. Take the hurt to Jesus. Take the love to your kids.

 

 

Making the Bold Ask

Most of my adult life I’ve done fundraising in some capacity. I’ve raised money for charities and political campaigns. I’ve asked for all kinds of donations: from cars to vacation packages to table sponsorships to multi-million dollar grants. While I know that most people hate asking for money, personally I’d much rather ask for money for a charity or political campaign than to ask for something for myself.

I struggle with clearly asking for what I want or need in professional settings, friendships, close intimate relationships.

The same is true for my prayer life.

I have no problem reciting a list of needs to God, especially when the needs are for other people. I struggle a little more when I am asking for things for myself – wisdom, to be a good wife and mom, to be disciplined in my walk with him – but I also know God says to ask for those and wants me to do them.

But I spend very little time having any really deep conversations with God about the desires of my heart. My personal battles. The temptations I struggle with. The wars I feel like I keep losing. The ugly stuff.

In Luke 18, Jesus gave two examples of people petitioning God for what they wanted.

The first (Luke 18:1-8) was a parable about a widow who kept coming to a judge with her plea for justice against an adversary. He finally gave in because of her persistence.

The second (Luke 18:35-43) was a blind beggar who came to Jesus and asked for mercy. Jesus asked him specifically what he wanted Jesus to do for him, and he told Jesus he wanted to see. Because of his faith, Jesus healed him.

But what if the blind beggar didn’t just ask for his physical eyes to be healed. What if he asked for salvation and for eyes to see both physically and spiritually? Jesus asked the man specifically what he wanted Jesus to do for him and the man could have asked for anything.

Do I do the same thing? Am I shortchanging myself by not being bold and thinking big when I come before the Maker of the Universe?

Lessons Learned about Prayer in Luke 18:

  • BE BOLD!
  • Keep asking God over and over. Don’t give up on my prayers.
  • Cry out to God day and night.
  • Ask with faith.
  • Don’t just ask for the minimum. Think big.